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The Valley of Shells and Bones

“What scaled and feathered fetish shakes awake our loamy sleep
in these sealed vaults where dust and sand enrobe our golden masks
that hover over dreaming faces drowned in tinted musk?
Here where the spider curls and chitters in the crystal locket.
Here as time’s mouth leeches blood and brain and bids
the leather skin to tighten in on the empty, staring socket,
and bind the breath that fading far once laughed within the dusk?”

Here is your thin tin trowel,
And here your sable brush,
For prying loose these mitered stones,
And sweeping off the dust
That sifts between these souls
Like paling ebony snow,
As you squat above the site
Where they worshiped once below.
Come thrust your torch
Through shattered walls,
And map the stains on stone,
And explicate their distant deaths
From strewn patterns of bone.

The distance that such deaths define
Is measured by that ageless path
That winds up from the sea’s last limb
Meandering to the blood’s demands,
And, rolling over shells’ sharp rims,
Finally finds its well-trod way
To midnight’s flaming brands
Where vacant, lusting faces grin
Within masks of whitened clay.

This path slopes down through the stunted woods
Where the mantis ruts and broods,
Then spirals down to the sacred caves
Where men in twitching files repeat
The witless chants of wind and waves.

“Thick curds of rancid smoke performed our genuflections.
Our flayed limbs writhed, then steamed in screams of light.
Our lidless eyes became one daring crow’s confections.
Our shriveled nerves shrank back from chittering flames’ delight.
Our marrow melted fast as flames licked up our blackened bones.
Our gaping mouths spewed rancid smoke as if they would relate
the secret magic flint and steel on tethered flesh create.”

Here is your iron pick,
And here your crested spoon.
Not silver, true, but still
The emblem of your art,
Which is, to wit,
To lay buried bodies bare;
Explain their ritual agonies,
Deduce their sorry fate,
Describe their diet, sex,
The colors of their hair,
And tell how long
Their ashen lair
Has lurked beneath
Our present pleasant State.

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